ESPN Wisconsin Blogs - Gabe Neitzel
By: Gabe Neitzel
I know not everyone pays attention to golf each and every week like I do. But I do know that when Tiger plays, people pay attention. He won the Players Championship for the first time since 2001 (and only his second time overall) on Sunday, thus proving that anyone who asks the question, “Is Tiger Back?” is just plain stupid. Seriously. I don't want to hear “but he hasn't won a major since 2008.” He is the number 1 ranked player in the world, and has won 8 of his last 22 events. You know that 8 wins in a PGA career is spectacular, right? He's won the World Golf Championship events, and the Players field is as strong as any major. So lets go ahead and look back to see how Tiger took the Players with a Retro-Diary. We pick up the action with Tiger on the Back 9.
Hole 10-Tiger makes the turn at -13. He hasn't had to hit driver much at all this week. Although, when you hit a 5 wood around 300 yards, why would you even think about pulling the driver out of the bag?? He has a two shot lead, which is a dangerous proposition on the back nine. The back side at TPC Sawgrass plays easier than the front, and the way he has been hitting the ball all week, he can just make par after par and make other players try to catch him. Tiger has been better than anyone ever in this position. He stings an iron into the fairway to validate everything I just said. Meanwhile, on 17, Martin Laird is two shots back, but is on the wrong side of the green. Thanks for playing Martin. Last time we mention your name in this blog. Back to Tiger, where he hits a “Mediocre at best” shot into the green. But he is still on the putting surface, and I'm willing to bet he two putts. By the way, I love this NBC broadcast crew. Good mix of teaching, praise, and criticism (Most of the criticism comes from Johnny Miller). And to no one's surprise, Tiger two putts. Lets move on.
Hole 11-Ageless Jeff Maggert (age 49) just made birdie on the green, before Tiger even tees off. He is now in solo second at -12. Back at 10, Sergio is trying to play out of a fairway bunker. He misses the green. Short tangent on Sergio Garcia. I get he is a little fire-y. He plays with passion. But doesn't he know better to not try and accuse Tiger of anything? Do you really want to try and make Tiger mad? He is already the best player in the world, and we know that he plays tremendous when angry. Just ask Stephen Ames. I understand Sergio was upset, but probably shouldn't try to create controversy when there isn't any. Doesn't end well for anyone but Tiger, usually. Meanwhile, Tiger drills his drive on 11. First time he's hit driver all day, unfortunately, he pulls his iron and now has a tough 3rd shot coming up. Side note: I love NBC's slow motion camera, where they show the divots that these pros take. Fun to watch the dirt explode out of the ground. Tiger can't get up and down for birdie, so settles for par. Ho-hum.
Hole 12-Another iron off the tee for Tiger. No need to be aggressive. He is clearly telling the field to “come and get me.” There is a lesson for all of us amateurs out there (and yes, I am including myself). If the number 1 player in the world keeps the driver in the bag more often than not, why do we all feel the need to hit driver all the time? I get that we aren't as nearly long as Tiger is, but at the same time, positioning and finding the fairway are more important than out-driving your buddies. Nice Wedge by Tiger, and he has a good birdie look, that he rattles home. Seriously, if you ask the question “Is Tiger Back?” You should never be allowed to talk about sports ever again, because you aren't paying attention. Tiger now at -14, and two clear of the field.
Hole 13-Safe tee shot by Tiger, as he misses the green, but is on the fringe. Stays clear of the water on the par 3, as NBC shows yet another feature I love: the pro tracer. Seeing how the pros shape their shots is another fun tool to give insight on how these guys play. Good speed on the first putt, and Tiger makes another par. For being must see TV, Tiger can get a little boring when he has the lead.
Hole 14-Uh-oh. Tiger pulls his tee shot into the water. Maybe this will get interesting after all...Peter Jacobson is almost speechless while calling the action. He can't believe it. Sergio hits a good shot on 13, and suddenly he may be back in the picture. Tiger has a drop upcoming, and every golf troll out there is going to be paying super close attention as to where he drops this. I know there has to be someone out there looking through the rule book, trying to find some rule Tiger is violating. After Sergio hits his putt back on 13, 3 players are now at -12, and Tiger is going to drop at least one here. “Heckuva shot” is about the highest praise you can get from Johnny Miller, and that is how he described Tiger's recovery shot that leaves him just short of the green. Tiger can't get up and down, cards a double bogey 6, and we have a four way tie for first at -12. Yikes, Sunday at TPC Sawgrass just got a lot more fun.
Hole 15-Tiger bounces back nicely. Drills his 5 wood down the right side. Some people always do the club twirl after every shot (I'm looking at you Rory), but you know Tiger likes a shot when he a) twirls the club, b) starts walking after the shot or putt, or c) never looks at the ball, and just picks up his tee. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the universal sign for “I hate this shot” is dropping the club, like Ryan Palmer just did on 16. I don't think we'll be hearing from him the rest of the day. Tiger's iron play is now betraying him, as he misses the green. Tiger really looking at this one, as he knows he needs to get up and down for par. He hits as good of a shot as he can, and makes the par putt coming back. Meanwhile, at 17, we can say good-bye to co-leader Jeff Maggert. He just dunked his tee shot short of the island green into the water. This looks like a two man race between Tiger and Sergio.
Hole 16-This is a fun stretch of holes to close the tournament. 16 is a scoring hole in a par 5, while 17 is an easy hole, but is visually intimidating. 18 is a great closing hole, with water all the way down the left hand side. It feels like anything can happen. Tiger not happy with his tee shot, as he couldn't get it to draw, and is now in the rough. Back on 15, Sergio misses a long birdie putt, and it comes down to who will play these final 3 holes the best. Tiger gets aggressive in hacking out a ball that was buried in the rough, and finds a bunker short of the green. For a moment, it seemed as if the NBC announcing team thought Tiger could find the water. If he gets up and down, he has a one shot lead. Back on the tee, Sergio splits the fairway. He should be able to go for the green in two. Tiger will make birdie, as he splashes a sand shot to within gimme distance. The thing that has separated Tiger from the rest of the field in his career is his short game. No one can scramble or putt like Eldrick. Sergio, though, isn't going away, as he finds the green in two.
Hole 17-Realistically, this is not that hard of a hole. Its 122 yards to the front of the green, and the longest it could play to the pin is 150, if that. That is a wedge for just about everyone on tour. However, when you visually intimidate the players, that is when this hole become hard. You can't miss the green. If you miss the green, your ball is wet. There is no room for error. On top of that, this is one of the biggest tournaments of the year, with one of the best fields of the year. Now try to hit that 135 yard wedge shot. No pressure or anything. Tiger safely finds the green, but now has a massive two putt to make par. Back on 16, Sergio two putts for his birdie, and we are tied once again. Somehow, Tiger has a perfect lag putt, and will make par. Its now on Sergio to try and birdie 17 to take the outright lead. And before Tiger can even tee off on 18, it feels like the tournament is now over. Sergio got aggressive, and hits the ball short, and finds the water on 17. He is going to drop at least a shot. Meanwhile, David Lingmerth just stuck his tee shot, and has a birdie putt for the tie. He is the only one who can catch Tiger, as Sergio just took himself out of the tournament for sure. He elected to re-tee, and hitting three from the tee, he finds the water once again. Roger Maltbie, who is following the final group, just called Sergio's third tee shot a “little Tin Cup” as he refuses to go to the drop area. After he finally find the tee, the sarcastic cheers erupt from the croud.
Hole 18- Tiger pipes his drive on 18. If he doesn't make par, I would be shocked. Legitimately stunned. Back on 17, Lingmerth can't convert the birdie, and you can't help but think that was his best chance to catch Tiger. Speaking of Tiger, remember what I said before about him liking a shot? Well he starts to follow his approach on 18. Easy two putt for him, and now its up to Lingmerth to try and catch him with a birdie on the last, which seems unlikely seeing as Lingmerth just found the rough. Tiger could just wrap this thing up in style, by making this birdie putt, but alas, it was not to be. He is in at -13. Lingmerth actually finds the green, but leaves himself a putt that Miller calls a “one in fifty.” In other words, this is over.
And of course, it is. And I don't just mean this tournament, I mean this golf season. Seriously, Tiger has never played well here, other than the year he won in 2001. There is no way he doesn't win major number 15 this year. What is cool about this win, is that Tiger has now won his 100th, 200th, and 300th start on the PGA tour. I guess those things have a tendency to happen when you win over 25% of the tournaments you enter. Tiger has now won 4 tournaments, and just told Steve Sands of NBC that he is “getting better.” Getting better??? Yikes. If you like watching golf, I hope you like Tiger, because you are about to see a lot more of him.
By: Gabe Neitzel
I know that this isn't the sexiest NFL draft that you can remember. However, it doesn't mean it is less important than any other draft. In fact, as Packers fans, this might be an incredibly important draft. No one seems to have a clue as to what Ted Thompson is thinking, or who he is going to draft. But his philosophy of “Draft and Develop” becomes even more important, considering what has happened this off-season.
The Packers haven't been overly active in the free agent market, which hasn't been a surprise to some, but has been the cause of outrage to others. I wasn't expecting the Packers to go nuts this off-season, just because they had to re-sign Clay Matthews (5 years, $66 million), and Aaron Rodgers (Yet to sign, but will likely get north of $23 million). This year, the NFL salary cap will be $123 million. It was also $123 million in 2009. So, its not as if the cap number is just skyrocketing right now. So working under the assumption that Rodgers only gets $23 million per year, Matthews and Rodgers will take up roughly 29% of the team's salary cap next year.
Look, the Packers needed to spend this money on these two players. Matthews is the highest paid linebacker in NFL history. Is he the best linebacker in the NFL right now? I would say no, but we all know at this point that Joe Flacco isn't the best QB in the NFL right now, even though he is the highest paid player in league history. The Packers needed to sign Matthews. He is the only proven consistent play maker on the defense right now. The team needs Matthews, more than Matthews needs the Packers. When you are in a situation like that, chances are a guy will get a little more money than he may be worth.
The Packers have to pay Rodgers as well, mostly because if you let the best player in the league just walk away, that is a little embarrassing. He will be the highest paid player, and he should be. Its worth noting that Rodgers would take up 18.7% of the cap if he were to sign for $23 million per year. (Its also worth noting that in 2010, the GDP of the City of Green Bay was $14.7 Million. So no matter what, Rodgers will make more than the entire Gross Domestic Product of the city in which he resides during the season. Crazy.) Of teams that have won the Super Bowl since 2000, the QB who took up most of his team's salary cap is Eli Manning, who accounted for 11.3% of the Giants cap in 2011. The second highest? Brad Johnson, who took up 9.6% of the Buccaneers cap space in 2002.
So whats the point of everything I just told you? No, it isn't that the Packers shouldn't pay Rodgers, because they have to. Same goes for Matthews. The point is, that when you commit that much of your salary cap to two players, you need to draft and develop. Its only in the draft where you can lock up players to decent priced contracts for four to five years. When money is tight, you need to squeeze as much value as possible out of young players who aren't making as much as the veterans.
We all knew that this day would come. Thompson has been saving up cap space for years, knowing that if he hit on players in the draft, eventually he would have to make tough decisions, and let some players walk away, while locking up others to be franchise cornerstones. Those two cornerstones are Rodgers and Matthews, while other players, such as Charles Woodson, Greg Jennings, and potentially Jermichael Finley, have been or will be allowed to walk away. And the Packers can't afford to go after big money free agents, as long as they have Matthews and Rodgers locked up.
So, while this draft isn't the best, it is deep. And that is why it is important that the Packers hit on a number of their draft picks. I know some will moan if Thompson trades out of the first round. However, especially in this draft, there isn't much difference between a late first round and early second round pick. Except for the money. Thompson has always wanted to compile draft picks, and he may want to continue that strategy, to give himself more opportunities to hit on that cheap, young talent that the Packers will need to fit under the salary cap.
By: Gabe Neitzel
Lets face it, College sports is broken. It seems just about every other day you hear of a different scandal. And just about every major program, whether it has been secondary or major, have some sort of violations to their name. Mike Rice shouldn't have been allowed to berate his players with homophobic slurs, or allowed to throw basketballs at them. Auburn is now dealing with accusations of academic fraud, as well as paying players under the table. Miami is a mess with the Nevin Shapiro situation. And to top it all off, the NCAA is under scrutiny because of their handling of the Miami/Nevin Shapiro situation.
Something needs to be done. The NCAA is setting a double-standard of what they expect of their members. The NCAA expects coaches of their respective programs, to know what is always going on with all players, at all times. If they don't, they lack “institutional control” and will face discipline. However, the same standard isn't set or followed by NCAA president Mark Emmert. He is allowed to claim not to know that NCAA personnel paid Shaprio's lawyer in order to get information for its investigation into Miami.
Look, I'm not saying that Emmert deserves to be fired. He should be held to some sort of standard, and there needs to be some sort of discipline, as long as he continues to hold coaches to the standard of being omni-aware. (Emmert doesn't do himself any favors with his demeanor.) Emmert, though, has almost an impossible job. Running the NCAA, which seems like it is a crumbling organization, doesn't seem to be all that glamorous. Coaches and athletic directors are constantly showing they are willing to either break rules, or look the other way when it comes to violations, as long as it means they can win. (And in turn, by winning, make more money). The NCAA isn't staffed to be able to investigate every institution at all times, so they usually start looking into situation after its been reported in the media. Emmert is in a position where it seems like he can never win.
The way the NCAA is run very well could change, and change soon. There has been talk of potentially paying players a stipend for a while now, and there is the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit that could make changes soon. (The O'Bannon lawsuit is fairly complicated, but to try and put in its simplest terms, O'Bannon and other plaintiffs are suing the NCAA and EA Sports for using player likeness in video games. The suit has also been amended to say that players are entitled to 50 percent of revenue generated by the NCAA and conference television contracts.) The way that college athletics are run could change, and change drastically.
I've fought with myself over whether or not I feel that college athletes should get paid. I understand that the idea of amateurism is romanticized. Its an idea that really doesn't exist anymore. Universities are taking advantage of athletes, by signing huge TV deals, and then not having to pay the athletes. The counter-argument is the players can take advantage of the university, by getting a free degree, and leave college debt-free. But, I get why players feel they should get more. Major Division I Athletes aren't allowed to have jobs, partially because too many times those athletes have been given cake jobs by boosters, where they just show up and get paid well above what the average employee should get. I think they deserve something, just so they can go out and grab a pizza, or take their significant other to dinner and movie. How much should they get, though? That is where the slippery slope begins.
There is a part of me that is worried about what happens if athletes get 50 percent of TV money. Again, I may be romanticizing the idea of college athletics, but there is a bond between the coach and players in college athletics. And this isn't fabricated. Watch this speech that Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall gave after his team lost in the Final Four. That is pure, raw emotion. He clearly cares about the team he coaches, and not in terms of wins and losses. He cares about the young men on that team as individuals.
And that is what college sports can be about. That is what college sports, at least to me, is all about. I know there is money to be made, and there are people who are debating who should have that money, but to me, that is all periphery. Deep down, at its core, there is something bigger than wins and losses. There is a bond that can be formed, between teammates, between players and coaches, that can teach.
That's what college sports did for me. For the most part, I was a shy kid when I arrived on the campus at UW-Platteville. I played 4 years of baseball there, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I always wore sunglasses when I played, and apparently teammates called me “Shades” because no one knew my name. Over 4 years of being on a team, bonding with teammates and coaches, that all changed. There are still some things that I keep to myself, but college sports helped me come out of my shell a little, and helped me get to where I am today. I have no doubt that it has done the same for others. But when you start getting money involved, I wonder if those bond, those teaching lessons will still be the same. If you start paying players, will actions like the ones Mike Rice pulled off at Rutgers become acceptable? Because once money starts getting involved, is it really about teaching life lessons? Or will it just complete the journey the NCAA is currently on, and become completely about money?
Florida Gulf Coast is the story of the week. As they should be. They are a fun to watch, and they are making history. Their run over the last weekend is a reminder of what puts the “madness” into March. Its a reminder that anything can happen in this tournament, and its why many of us love taking three weekends out of our lives to watch this true version of reality TV unfold.
We love upsets, unless it is our team that is upset. We realize that anything can happen, but become irrational if it is our team that anything is happening to. The Wisconsin Badgers were such a team this year. They fell victim to one of the “Cinderella” teams in the tournament. They obviously did themselves no favor by having their worst shooting day of the season. But people were upset after an early exit, and all of the Bo Ryan haters came out of the woodwork on social media.
“Fire Bo!” They were all proclaiming. “He can't get it done during the tournament.” What they seemed to forget is rule number one of March Madness: Anything can happen. (Well just about anything. I mean the only thing we haven't seen at this point is a 16 beating a 1 seed. Or a team lower than an 8th seed winning the whole thing. But you get the point.) If you are a Badgers fan, you have every right to be disappointed, or mad, or angry about their loss to Ole Miss. I get it. But at the same time, can we please stay rational?
Building a college basketball program takes time. UW basketball history more or less starts with Dick Bennett, and continues with Bo Ryan. The Badgers hoops program is still in its infancy. They are in a spot where they are consistent contenders now in the Big Ten, and they are ready to take that next step. So the question has somehow become, has Bo Ryan taken the Badgers as far as he can?
I understand the question. Some fans are thinking that UW can have more than just one Elite Eight appearance over the last 8 years. And sometimes this is just the case in sports. One coach lays the groundwork, but then it takes another coach to put the team over the top. The best, and most local, example I can come up with is Ned Yost. He was a hassle at times to deal with. Most fans were pretty sick of him and relieved when he was shown the door late in 2008. He technically never led the Brewers to the postseason, but he does not receive the credit he deserves. The Brewers were a mess when he took over, and he helped change the culture, the mindset of the club. The Brewers haven't been consistent playoff contenders, but they are a competitive team, and Ned Yost deserves and earned some of the credit behind the teams turnaround.
I do not believe that is the case for the Wisconsin Badgers just yet. Bo has gotten the team this far, and I think he can continue to elevate the program. It helps that the talent inside the state of Wisconsin has gotten better over the past 5 years, and now he has convinced Sam Dekker and his AAU teammate Bronson Koenig to stay in state. But the true sign of growth is that Ryan and his staff were able to get Nigel Hayes from Toledo, Ohio, to pick UW over his home state school of Ohio State.
Paired with Dekker, the 5 players that are going to be coming to Madison this upcoming fall have the potential to be the most talented group Ryan has had to date. Before we decide to run him out of town, lets see what he can do with this group first, shall we?
By GABE NEITZEL
Most lessons have to be learned the hard way. And I've learned my lesson, again, the hard way with the Wisconsin Badgers Men's Basketball team.
And I should have known better. But there I sat, in early January, after UW hung on for a win again Penn State, followed by a 47-point offensive showing (again, in a win) wondering aloud if the Badgers tournament streak was in jeopardy. They were about to start a stretch where they’d play nine ranked opponents in 11 games. I was wondering how in the world the Badgers would win any of those nine games, let alone the two against Iowa also in that stretch of play.
I've always been a Bo Ryan supporter. And I will readily admit that I may be a little biased when it comes to Bo. I know some people have had run-ins with Coach Ryan, where he may snap back a sarcastic remark if he doesn't like a question, but that wasn't the case with my first encounter with Bo.
He was the first “big” interview I ever did. In January of 2007, UW-Platteville dedicated and named their floor inside Williams Fieldhouse after the coach who led the school to four Division 3 national championships.
Coach Ryan and his current Badgers team stopped on their way to Iowa for the ceremony. Earlier in the week, I had reached out to UW's Sports Information Department to request an interview with Bo for our pregame show. He could have easily said no, but he accepted. He was as nice as he could be to me during the interview, and thus, I have been a little biased toward Bo ever since.
Anyway, I should have known better. I should have stuck with my “stand by Bo” instincts. Because here we are, three games left in the Badgers Big Ten season, and they are just a game out of first place. Not only are they easily going to make the tournament, they could very well get a share of the Conference title, and be the Conference's No. 1 seed in Chicago. But how exactly are they doing it??
This could very well be Bo Ryan's best coaching job. He won't get any recognition nationally, outside of his few supporters like Pat Forde or Rick Reilly. But if this team wins the Big Ten, I'm not sure who did a better job. This team maybe has one NBA player in its starting five. They have beaten the likes of Michigan, who possibly have three NBA lottery picks in this upcoming draft.
They also took down the Indiana Hoosiers, in Bloomington, who have two of the best players in the country, let alone the conference. They've done it with a point guard who grew up as a two guard (Traevon Jackson), a senior going through an incredibly rough shooting slump at the free throw line (Ryan Evans), and an emotional leader whose season almost ended before its started (Mike Bruesewitz).
How have they done it? They've been a team all season long, in every sense of the word. They have had to grow as a unit, from day one, after Josh Gasser went down. They play some of the best team defense in the country, and possibly of Bo Ryan's career.
And suddenly, they are figuring it out offensively, as a team. They have won three straight games by 20 or more points, something that hasn't happened at Wisconsin since William Howard Taft was in the oval office. They have seven-straight 20-win seasons, which is the second longest streak in the Big Ten. I would take this team over last year’s version, because they don't rely upon one player. It is someone different stepping up every night. They are getting more confident as the season rolls on, and very well could make their third straight Sweet 16. Has this team been frustrating to watch at times? Absolutely. But you cannot argue with the results.
The lesson, as always, is don't doubt Bo.
By GABE NEITZEL
The Olympics are undergoing more changes. The biggest news of late has been wrestling being left off the list of core sports for the 2020 games. Another change that made a push this past summer was taking NBA players out of the Olympics once again.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was at the front of this movement, saying “The Olympics are a huge for-profit endeavor. It makes no sense that NBA owners subsidize it.” He has a point, to an extent. The claim against NBA players in the Olympics is that the season is long enough and that it can wear down those players during the next season, not to mention potentially opening them up to some sort of injury during the Olympic games.
While there hasn't been much about this since the Summer Games, I have been paying attention to the 12 NBA players that represented Team USA this past summer. I was curious to see if there was any sort of statistical drop-off for those players, any sign of fatigue. The following is what I have found with NBA season at its “midway” point.
Tyson Chandler- He was one of the elder statesmen of the Olympic team at 30, but he is not really seeing a drop off at all in his play. While his field goal percentage is down .006% (Oh the humanity!), he still leads the league in that category, as well as total offensive rebounds. His points per game is virtually identical from a year ago, and his Hollinger PER (Player Efficiency Rating) is 20.49, the highest of his career.
Kevin Durant- He is in the middle of perhaps the best season of his young career. All of his shooting numbers are the highest they have ever been throughout his time in the league. His 29 points per game is the second highest of his career, but he is showing no signs of fatigue whatsoever.
LeBron James- His latest stretch helped boost his overall shooting numbers, but even before the six-game streak with 30-plus points and 60-plus percent shooting he was having a tremendous year. He is shooting his 3-pointers with more efficiency than he ever has before, while also grabbing the most rebounds per game of his career (8.1). He is unquestionably the games best player, and leads the league in PER with a mark of 31.26.
Russell Westbrook- He is the first player that we come across who has shooting numbers a little lower from last year (Field Goal percentage is down from .457% to .427%) His scoring is down as well, about a point from last year as he is averaging 22.5 points per game. However, his assist-to-turnover ratio has improved. He is averaging eight dimes a game compared to just 5.5 per game a year ago. This has also helped slightly boost his PER to 23.14.
Deron Williams- He is having a rough season. Just about every single number is down this year, from shooting percentages to assists. The only thing he really is going better this year is protecting the ball. His turnovers are down from four per game to just below three.
Andre Iguodala- I never thought that he was a real big star in the league, and much like Deron Williams, his numbers are down across the board. Some of this could be blamed on him playing in a new city and conference, but at 29 years old, maybe he is starting to regress a little bit. He is averaging more points per game this year at 13.4, but he is doing it by taking more shots, and shooting at a lower percentage.
Kobe Bryant- Some thought he was having a bit of a resurgence this year, but this number are actually pretty consistent from a year ago. He is averaging about an assist more per game, and is scoring about a point less per game. But he is making roughly the same number of shots per game, while taking three less attempts. So his efficiency is up, and that is reflected in his PER, which is up from 21.95 to 22.57.
Chris Paul- He is the best point guard in the NBA, and is continuing to play like it. His numbers are remarkably consistent from a year ago, although his PER is down from 27.09 to 26.61. That being said, he still ranks third in the NBA in PER. He is scoring three less points per game from last year, so that could explain the slight drop.
Carmelo Anthony- He too is having one of his best seasons. His shooting numbers are up, and he leads the league in points per game at 29. His PER is up three points from last year at 24.53.
There were three other players on the Olympic team, but for the purposes of this fake study, I have left them off for various reasons. Anthony Davis played in college basketball last year, so I can't provide any context to his numbers, because I have nothing to compare them to. Kevin Love broke his hand, so his sample size is too small to make an apt comparison.
Love broke his hand doing knuckle pushups prior to the season, then re-fractured the hand on January 3. I also did not include James Harden. His numbers have taken an astronomical leap from last year, where he was the third best player on his team and coming off the bench. Everyone thought he might be a superstar, and it turns out that he is. With Houston, he is getting more minutes, thus his stats are all up.
I also want to note that we are only “halfway” through the NBA season. There is still the possibility that the guys start to wear down to some extent once the playoff grind hits. So the following opinion I am about to give, could change, but I doubt it.
NBA players in the Olympics has made Olympic Basketball relevant. I understand where Cuban is coming from, not wanting to risk player injuries to guys he is paying handsomely. But at the same time, it is not as if the NBA guys are getting nothing in return. And I'm not just talking about the opportunity to represent your country or play for a gold medal. These guys are all learning from each other when they get together like this. Five years ago, at the 2008 Olympics, LeBron saw how hard Kobe was working, what his work ethic was and he made the changes he needed to get better, to keep up, and now surpass Bryant as the games best. Kevin Durant is also working differently after being around other NBA superstars for a summer. Are you telling me its a coincidence that Westbrook's assists are up 2.5 per game from a year ago? I'm willing to bet he learned something while playing for Team USA.
Not only that, but the coaching and teaching that the players received the past couple of Olympics could be the best coaching they ever receive. There are only a handful of difference-making coaches at the NBA level. Coach Mike Krzyzewski would be a difference maker at the NBA level if he ever left Duke. He is without a doubt one of the best basketball coaches around, regardless of level.
Some of these guys will never have a chance to play for a coach that good ever again. LeBron and Kobe have publicly stated how much Coach K has helped them. He will make a difference for the other 10 on the roster, provided they listen. While Krzyzewski has said that he thought the teams run in London would be his last as the head coach, there are reports that he is considering returning to Team USA's bench. So, while there is some risk for NBA owners to have their players play in the Olympics, isn't it worth the risk, since the chance is pretty good that a player will return to your team better than he was the year before?